Call for papers: Radical Thinking in the Middle Ages

Is there something like a radical thought in the Middle Ages? The many expressions that make use of the idea of radicality in the history of philosophy (l’origine radicale des choses, radical evil, Radical Enlightenment, radical democracy, etc.) raise the question of whether this concept is relevant to the Middle Ages. The aim of the colloquium is to investigate the many ways of using the word and the many ways of resorting to radicality itself. This will allow to set forth the nature and conditions of a medieval radical thought, in all geographical, cultural and religious areas and in all languages (Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew).

Philosophy has periodically pretended to go back to the roots (radices) of things, to reach their foundation or attain their purest form. An example immediately comes to mind: the radical Parisian Aristotelianism of the late thirteenth century. However, the difficulties raised by the labels ascribed to this group of arts masters are well known. In this case at least, radicalism is not so much a sign of excess as a sign of restraint caused by the desire to be as true as possible to a certain doctrine, theory or philosophical option by returning to its source, namely Aristotle, through his Arabic commentators.

Besides the quest for foundations, philosophy may also be radical in its method when it refuses any compromise on its principles or basic concepts, be they new or rediscovered. Radicality then comes out as excess, when, pushing a hypothesis, a method or a reasoning to its limits, one turns out backing extreme positions. Radical thought means being intellectually inflexible on principles, breaking away from tradition, innovating, but also upholding extremism. We may therefore reflect on the reactions it triggers: doctrinal conflicts, religious struggles, or condemnations by religious or academic institutions.

The idea is to revisit the history of medieval philosophy looking for any instantiation of radical thought, taking into account not only metaphysical, epistemological, scientific, but also ethical, political or religious debates. Focus could also be, for a more outward perspective, on the social and cultural conditions of emergence of thinkers and movements considered radical. More generally, then, the question will be historiographical: is this label relevant? Was there a radical Middle Ages as there was what has since been called a Radical Enlightenment?